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Marcotti: A tournament to remember

World Cup Jul 14, 2014
Read
Jun 14, 2014

It's OK to like England again, really

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol believes that England deserved at least a draw from their valiant effort against Italy.

The nation of England awakes, dry-mouthed and weary, a head pulsing with confusing memories. Did it really happen? Did they actually see their team play with courage, verve and no small amount of derring-do? Did they really find themselves, for the first time in 10 years, willing their tattooed, millionaire representatives to victory, rather than howling in derision at their soft-headed, slack-jawed incompetence? These are indeed strange times.

Yes, England lost the game, and yes, oh yes, there are some serious questions to be answered regarding That Left Flank and the untouchable status of certain senior players. But by thunder, there's barely an Englishman alive who wouldn't rather lose playing like that than trudge unwillingly to an inevitable second-round exit. After the misery of 2010, the failure to even make Euro 2008 and the all too predictable dirge of 2006, this was a vast improvement.

England: The team it's OK to like again. Who saw that coming?

*

But who would have seen Rooney's demise coming, had they been asked what the future held in 2004? Back then, Rooney was the bright hope, the irrepressible, indefatigable force of nature contained only by an untimely toe injury. Ten years on, he is the scapegoat for the nation.

Who failed to protect Leighton Baines in the first half? Rooney. Who failed to impose himself on the game like Raheem Sterling? Rooney. Who ended the match, huffing and puffing like a dad trying to keep up with his kids, desperately swinging at anything that came near him in a fruitless bid for salvation? Rooney. Who should have been subbed off midway through the second half as his tiring legs failed him? Gerrard. Oh, and Rooney.

England were impressive on Saturday night, but Roy Hodgson still has some big decisions ahead of him.

*

Joe Hart lands in his own net after allowing in Italy's second goal to Mario Balotelli.
Uruguay have a lot to answer for after being manhandled by Costa Rica.

Speaking of waking up in confusion, what must it be like in the Uruguayan team hotel on Sunday morning? There were suspicions that the South American side were no longer as devastating a force as they were when they roared to 2011's Copa America success, but no one thought they had deteriorated quite this quickly.

With Luis Suarez still recovering from a knee operation and Edinson Cavani looking a fraction of the player he was at Napoli, Uruguay were dull, slow and intensely disappointing. Costa Rica were never quite the whipping boys that some people assumed, but to smash the South American champions up as convincingly as they did was a phenomenal and entirely deserved achievement. The 'minnows' are now the team to beat in this group.

*

A tip of the hat to Colombia for their efforts on Saturday. Not only did they spank Greece in front of everybody, but they also made an early play for best celebration of the tournament. Napoli full-back Pablo Armero led at least a dozen of his colleagues in an expressive and rambunctious chorus line as they demonstrated poise, balance and just a hint of jazz hands. The World Cup is young, but it will take something special to beat this.

*

Arsenal's little secret is out: The magnificence of Serge Aurier has been made public.

Arsenal were probably hoping to wrap up the signing of Ivory Coast full-back Serge Aurier before anyone else noticed how accurately he could cross a football. If you snooze, you lose. The Gunners will find the marketplace a little more crowded after the Toulouse man tore Japan apart with two quick assists to turn the game around. More performances like this, and he could be one of the tournament's breakout players.

*

England aren't the only unpopular team that it's now OK to like. France kick off their tournament on Sunday afternoon, and while few expect them to go all the way, they look a fearsome prospect, especially in one of the more straight-forward groups in the competition.

It's all a far cry from 2010, when a thunderous hissy fit saw the entire team go on strike shortly before they went home in disgrace. This year, manager Didier Deschamps has performed something of an attitude-ectomy on the squad by surgically removing almost all of the disagreeable players. The one difficult player he couldn't drop, of course, was Franck Ribery, but Ribery's failure to recover from injury neatly eliminated that problem. Suddenly, the French look fun again.

*

But the pick of the Sunday games is quite clearly Argentina's encounter with Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is a trio of superstars in Brazil this summer for whom anything less than consistent magnificence will be considered something of a letdown. Neymar passed his entrance exam with flying colours on Thursday. Now it's Lionel Messi's turn to take to the stage.

He'll be met by a team that have been banging on the door of tournament football for some time, having twice missed out in playoff tussles with Portugal. This year, they couldn't be stopped. They'll have something to prove, and Argentina, no stranger to opening match upsets, should be wary. This could be a corker.

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